RENO — The brightly colored assortment of discarded ammunition casings on a hillside on the outskirts of Reno crackled as Kurt Miers waded through the pile.
"All these casings right here, you don't want the public to come and pick this stuff up," said Miers, an environmental protection specialist with the Bureau of Land Management.
That's because the littered casings and surrounding soil are contaminated with lead, which is hazardous to people.
"If you can look around here and see all this trash laying around, that's left from target practice, we call it trigger trash," he told the Reno Gazette Journal. "It's pretty widespread all through Nevada."
In heavily used target shooting areas such as where Miers visited Friday, the amount of lead in the soil is as much as four times what's considered the maximum allowable level in residential areas.
"It's a problem because it is putting everybody at risk," Miers said of the polluted site near Chimney Road at the north end of Sun Valley, and just uphill from hundreds of homes and a middle school that's under construction.
In addition to the pollution from ammunition and shells, the site is covered in trash, much of it riddled with bullet holes.
The trash, which often includes electronics and appliances, can leave behind more contaminants, especially when it's used for target practice.
"Either the shooters bring that stuff out and shoot it or they shoot stuff someone else has brought out here," said BLM Ranger Scott Fischer, who patrols the area. "That debris they are creating by shooting it just makes the problem worse."
The BLM recently hired a contractor to clean up solid waste and assess hazards at the site for $75,000.
The project is expected to take about two weeks. And while it means the casings and debris will be hauled off, the price doesn't include removing high levels of contamination from the soil.
"It's very expensive to clean up," Miers said. "And it comes at the expense of the taxpayers' dollars."
Fisher said that, in general, target shooting is legal on public land.
However, he said the area along Chimney Road is considered a congested area by Washoe County, which means shooting is prohibited within 5,000 feet (1,524 meters) of homes. Although even within 5,000 feet of the nearest neighborhood there was evidence of heavy target shooting.
Fischer added that even when people are shooting legally, they're still required to pick up casings, targets and any other trash they generate.
And shooting at glass, electronics or appliances is not only dangerous, it's illegal, he said.
"We don't want people shooting appliances, TVs, glass bottles," Fischer said. "It just creates a huge mess that has to be cleaned up."